The year 1120 was a horrible year for King Henry I. His only legitimate son William died when his ship, The White Ship, sank in the middle of the night. This tragedy left Henry with one option, his legitimate daughter Matilda, the former Holy Roman Empress, would become Queen of England, and her sons would continue the royal line. Unfortunately, Matilda’s throne was taken by Stephen of Blois, and now Matilda must join forces with her stepmother Her stepmother Adeliza has always stood by Matilda’s side. Still, when she remarries after Henry’s death, Adeliza struggles to support the rightful queen but stays loyal to her new husband, who supports Stephen. Matilda and Adeliza are caught in the middle of the Anarchy in Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel, “Lady of the English.”
We are introduced to Matilda at one of her lowest moments when her first husband, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, dies, and she must go back to England. Her father, Henry I, has decided that Matilda will be his heiress, and she must marry again to secure his legacy if his current wife, Adeliza, cannot give him another heir. Matilda’s second husband is Geoffrey V Duke of Anjou, a braggart and is abusive towards his wife, even though she outranks him. It is a contentious relationship, but Matilda holds her head up high to try and make this arrangement work for her sons, Geffory, William, and the future Henry II.
Unfortunately for Adeliza, she cannot give her husband the heir he desires, which means that the greatest men in the land must swear oaths to honor Matilda as the next Queen of England. The plan is set, but when Henry I dies, Matilda is in France, so her cousin Stephen of Blois takes the opportunity to become the next King of England. Matilda is furious and decides to fight for her right to the English throne while Geoffrey is in Anjou, but then shifts her position that her eldest son, Henry II, will be the next King of England.
After Henry I’s death, Adeliza decides what is best for her is to live the rest of her life in a nunnery, but that is not her fate. A handsome young man named William D’Albini sweeps her off her feet and gives Adeliza the one thing she long desired, a family. Unfortunately, when Stephen becomes King of England, William D’Albini joins forces with the new king, while Adeliza stays loyal to her step-daughter and friend, Matilda.
This is my first time reading a novel by Elizabeth Chadwick, and I loved it so much. The way Chadwick blended elements of fiction with historical facts was nothing short of astounding. From battles to religious moments, politics to intimate moments, Chadwick brought the story of The Anarchy to life for a modern audience. Reading this novel felt like I was transported to 12th century England and showed where Henry II got his strength and determination to rule England. If you want a vivid and compelling novel about two dynamic women in the 12th century, I highly recommend reading “Lady of the English” by Elizabeth Chadwick.